The Kirk

FROST AT MIDNIGHT
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.


Rick WilcoxWhen William Faulkner said “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” he might have been thinking of Coleridge.  As a precocious child, he read the Bible at three years of age and possessed an enormous capacity for memorization.

Further, his voracious appetite for books was fed by his aunt’s little business.  In a letter he wrote:

My Father’s Sister kept an every-thing Shop at Crediton—and there I read thro’ all the gilt-cover little books that could be had at that time, & likewise all the uncovered tales of Tom Hickathrift, Jack the Giant-killer, &c & &c &c &c—/——and I used to lie by the wall, and mope—and my spirits used to come upon me suddenly, & in a flood—& then I was accustomed to run up and down the church-yard, and act over all I had been reading on the docks, the nettles, and the rank-grass.—At six years old I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, & Philip Quarle [Quarll]—and then I found the Arabian Nights’ entertainments—one tale of which (the tale of a man who was com- pelled to seek for a pure virgin) made so deep an impression on me (I had read it in the evening while my mother was mending stockings) that I was haunted by spectres, whenever I was in the dark—and I distinctly remember the anxious & fearful eagerness, with which I used to watch the window, in which the books lay—& whenever the Sun lay upon them, I would seize it, carry it by the wall, & bask, & read—

All of this was planted into the soul of a child already in love with God through his upbringing as a vicar’s son.  As Malcolm Guite wrote:

If the mariner was to see the kirk itself drop away below the horizon as he set off on his voyage, he would still find that the deep structure of Christian thought, its heights and depths, its loss and redemption, would always be with him…

The Christianity into which Coleridge was born, to which he would eventually return, and which he himself would profoundly renew and re-envisage, was not some narrow bigotry or closed-down, text-bound literalism. Coleridge’s local vicar was not a flat-earther. John Coleridge was familiar with the great developments in astronomy that had taken place during his lifetime. He did not see the working of reason or the enlargement of the mind through the discoveries of science as in any sense a threat to his faith.

Were you raised in a religious home?

How does your answer now inform your life?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

Storm Chaser

THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER
Eudora Welty

“Up home we loved a good storm coming, we’d fly outdoors and run up and down to meet it,” her mother used to say. “We children would run as fast as we could go along the top of that mountain when the wind was blowing, holding our arms right open. The wilder it blew the better we liked it.”

Luke18:1

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.


RickToday is the birthday of one of my favorite writers, Eudora Welty. She was cut from Faulkner’s cloth, but was a little more accessible and significantly more sober. Born in Jackson Mississippi in 1909, she lived 92 rich years until passing away in 2001. She wrote about the South in ways only a Southerner can appreciate.

Like me, she fell in love with books before she could read them because she loved a good story.  She said

Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.

There’s power in a story, like power in a storm.  We first feel it in the air and hear its thunder in the distance.  By the time the wind and rain come, we are completely drawn in and all we want to do is sit on a porch swing and watch it fall.

Jesus understood that power.  He was a wonderful storyteller.  I love this exchange between Him and the disciples recorded in Matthew 13:10-13 (The Message) –

“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. “

Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 


 

D I G  D E E P E R


Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty

(1909–2001). The short stories and novels of Eudora Welty are normally set in a small Mississippi town that resembles her own birthplace of Jackson and the nearby Delta country. Like the work of fellow Mississippian William Faulkner, Welty’s writing takes on universal themes: the intricacy of human relationships and the qualities of character often hidden beneath a surface of insensitivity and social prejudice.

Welty was born on April 13, 1909. She was educated at the Mississippi State College for Women, the University of Wisconsin, and Columbia University’s school of advertising. She worked as a writer for a Jackson radio station and newspaper before her fiction won the praises of critics. Her first short story appeared in 1936. From then on her work appeared regularly in such journals as the Southern Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker. Her first collection, A Curtain of Green, was published in 1941. Her novels include Delta Wedding (1946), The Ponder Heart (1954), Losing Battles (1970), and The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), which won a Pulitzer prize.

What is voice?

If style is the flesh of writing, voice is its breath. “The best writing,” Peter Elbow observes, “has voice: the life and rhythms of speech.” For author Eudora Welty, “voice” is “the sound that falls on the page” as one writes and reads what one has written.  Yet when applied to writing, “voice” is a metaphor whose roots reach deep into the soil of orality. For Greek and Roman students of rhetoric whose goal was eloquence in public speaking, “style” itself was “voiced” (recall that the Latin word for style is elocutio, from which our word “elocution” comes). For contemporary writers, however, “voice” is more broadly conceived as “a composite of all the rhetorical and stylistic techniques a writer chooses, consciously or unconsciously, to use to present his or her self to an audience.” More specifically, Peter Elbow distinguishes “five senses of ‘voice’ as it is applied to writing: (1) audible voice (the sounds in a text); (2) dramatic voice (the character or implied author in a text); (3) recognizable or distinctive voice; (4) voice with authority; (5) resonant voice or presence.” All of these senses relate and resonate in that finely tuned instrument that we call the writer’s “voice.”

 

Sources & Resources

Lucretia B. Yaghjian, Writing Theology Well: A Rhetoric for Theological and Biblical Writers, Second Edition. (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 279–280.

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty appeared in 1980. The Eye of the Story (1978) is a volume of her essays. In 1984 Welty published an autobiography, One Writer’s Beginnings, based on a series of lectures. She died in Jackson on July 23, 2001.

“Welty, Eudora,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Suffering That Saves

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“Suffering is not a punishment,” Robert Ingersoll wrote, “it is a result.” Suffering, we learn as we go, is the price we pay to bring life to fullness, both for others and for ourselves. It is not to be desired in a neurotic kind of way, but it is definitely not to be denied. For when we refuse to suffer, we refuse to grow. Suffering requires us to stretch our souls to the boundaries of personal growth. It brings to the surface in us both strengths and weaknesses we could never, in any other way, know we have. It is not about surrendering ourselves to pain left devoid of meaning. It is about finding meaning in the center of the self whatever the stresses around us.

~Joan Chittister, from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life—the Ancient Practices Series


In Requiem For A Nun, William Faulkner wrote “The salvation of the world is in man’s suffering.”  A part of us acknowledges the wisdom of this saying as we consider the great sacrifices many have made for the betterment of others, yet we know it isn’t enough.  The noblest efforts of our greatest men cannot begin to reconcile the great gulf between us and God brought about by our rebellion.  In the end, only the suffering of Jesus can save us, and our highest aspiration is to humbly accept the gift of grace and to live a life in grateful service.

The life of Jesus is not a monument to the past; it is an invitation to the fullness of our own futures.

 

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Philippians 3:12–14

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Art: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, 1590s, Studio of El Greco

Christ kneels in the centre; at the upper left an angel appears to him with a cup, a reference to his forthcoming Passion. In the background on the left are the sleeping apostlesPeter, James the Greater and John; on the right Judas approaches with soldiers.
The painting is a synthesis of varying accounts of the Agony in the Gospels and is probably a workshop replica of a painting in the Museum of Toledo (Ohio). There are also several authentic vertical versions of this composition.
 

Literature:  There are two ways of approaching the contemporary models. Concepts such as “sacrifice”, “ransom” and “satisfaction”, that is, aids to understanding employed by biblical and ancient thought that are now no longer intelligible, can be replaced by other concepts that are clearer to modern man. Alternatively, the attempt can be made to bridge the gulf that yawns wider and wider (up to Anselm and his successors) between the person and work of Jesus and the rest of mankind, contrary to the Fathers’ original intuition of the commercium, the union of God and man through the “exchange of places”. If both attempts are taken together, it should be possible to come up with a promising new approach that would present the original theologico-historical plan in a radical (retrospective) form. This would promote the most satisfactory reflection possible on the biblical themes we have enumerated.

Looking at the history of modern times, we are inclined to doubt whether these two new paths, each of which has led to appreciable individual results, can be said to converge automatically on a synthesis (and, in any case, such a synthesis, of its very nature, cannot and must not be a “system”). In fact, the two approaches seem to be essentially opposed. The first model, which aims to provide a new set of aids to understanding centering on the idea of Jesus’ solidarity with mankind, takes its bearings primarily from his humanity and his active ministry. The second model, which wants to follow up the commercium theme in a radical way and insist on full substitution, looks primarily at the Cross as interpreted by Paul: here the full Godhead of the person of Jesus is the decisive factor.

Like the ancient and medieval worlds, the modern world is quite aware, when it comes to contemplating the mystery of Christ, that it is circling around the center of the drama in which God and man are involved. Even in the purely human drama, the two themes concern central, dramatic situations. On the one hand, we have the kind of solidarity that goes the whole way—that is, to death—as at the end of Dostoyevsky’s Idiot or in King Lear; and, on the other hand, there is the representative suffering that is found (both in its religious and in its social aspect) in Euripides, which Faulkner and Camus (Requiem for a Nun) have convincingly portrayed in our own time.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, from Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory: The Action, trans. Graham Harrison, vol. 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 266–267.

 

The Nature of Story by Glynn Young

Glynn Young

It’s the fall of 1985. I’m sitting in a classroom at Washington University in St. Louis, participating in a seminar for my master’s degree. This particular seminar is simply entitled “The Nature of Story.”

Of all the novels on the syllabus, the only one I’ve previously read is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The syllabus includes The Sound of the Fury by William Faulkner, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, and about eight other novels. As it so happens, the first novel we’re reading for the course is One Hundred Years of Solitude. I first read it in college when it was relatively new and all the rage, about the same time as The Lord of the Rings. I’ve dutifully read it again, and it’s a completely different experience from my first reading. This time, it almost seems like personal history.

The professor leading the seminar asks, in a casual, offhand way, “So, what did you think?” A short silence follows, until one student says, “It’s a ridiculous book. All this business about flying carpets and children sprouting pigs’ tails, well, it’s simply ludicrous. This is what they call magic realism?”

It seems most of the class agrees. We’re an unusual group; I’m the youngest of about 15 people; the oldest is the CEO of the local gas utility. No one had previously read the book except for me.

The discussion becomes a critical pile-on. Finally, the professor asks, “Did anyone actually enjoy it?”

I raise my hand and nod. “I grew up in a place and culture like Macondo,” I say. “It doesn’t seem alien or ludicrous at all. My grandmother and aunts and uncles told stories like this. I know we had flying carpets. And I’m sure there must have been a few kids in my neighborhood who had pigs’ tails.”

I look around the seminar table, and I see some surprise and even astonishment.

“Where did you grow up?” the professor asks.

“New Orleans,” I say.

“Ah,” he says, nodding, “the northern edge of the Caribbean culture. That makes sense. It’s Garcia Marquez’s culture, too.”

Part of what we learn that semester about the nature of story is that story speaks to us very differently than history or sociology or economics or political science. Inherent in the idea of story is something fundamental to our understanding of who we are, where we come from, how we grow up, what we experience, and what we accept as true. A myth can be just as true as a historical fact. In fact, a myth may be more powerful than a historical fact. Story and myth are the building materials of our worldviews, and they shape us in both known and subtle ways.

I’ve read novels since I was seven years old. And now I’m writing them. When I’m asked where the idea for a novel comes from, I can usually pinpoint a moment, an event, something someone said, or even a song (a song was the inspiration for my first novel).

But none of these things explains where the story comes from. The answer to that question is far more complex. It likely goes back to that big green book of fairy tales my mother read to me. It was that ninth-grade English teacher who taught us Great Expectations and made me fall in love with Dickens. It was my grandmother who worked in a cotton factory when she was five years old. Or my other grandmother who scrubbed floors in the big movie theaters in downtown New Orleans to keep her family fed. It was my great-grandfather who was a messenger boy for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. It was Inez the Crazy Woman who roamed the streets of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans and was every mother’s threat for misbehaving children. It was the list of births and deaths in the family Bible published in 1801, and all those names like Octavia, Cora Belle, and Jarvis.

And it was those flying carpets and children with pigs’ tails.

That’s the nature, and the power, of story.

 


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Glynn Young is the author of three novelsDancing PriestA Light Shining, and the newly published Dancing King, and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He is also an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Annie Spratt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Solitude-Harper-Perennial-Classics/dp/0060883286/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Fury-Vintage-International-ebook/dp/B004JHYRT0/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/River-Runs-through-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B06X99WMNF/ref=sr_1_1

https://unsplash.com/photos/thI_CZAB0MY

 

 

That Evening Sun by William Faulkner

That Evening Sun

 

That Evening Sun was published in 1931 as That Evening Sun Go Down. The title refers to a black spiritual song, whose lyrics begin, “Lordy, how I hate to see that evening sun go down.” It is an implication that death will accompany the setting of the sun, a fear that plagues Nancy, the black washer-woman who serves the white Compson family. The Compson family is also the central focus of The Sound and the Fury, for which “That Evening Sun” serves as a kind of introduction.

The story is told by Quentin Compson who is also a narrator of Absalom, Absalom!. In The Sound and the Fury, Quentin commits suicide. Nancy’s bones appear in The Sound and the Fury as well and she is resurrected entirely in Requiem for a Nun.

Faulkner was a master of interiors. He wrote from the inside out. It’s there we find the inexpressible truth, occasionally in retrospect and always out of context. It’s entirely subjective, just as we are.

When Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not”, he spoke for us all. We read that and nod quietly, agreeing that our truth is firmly rooted within us, even when it makes no sense. Argument won’t drive it out. In fact, the harder we try to deny it, the deeper it digs its talons.

That Evening Sun is a contrast of the dire condition of a poor black woman (who is about to be murdered) as seen through the eyes of a privileged and spoiled little white boy. We are sitting behind his eyes as he watches events unfold and he tells us the horror without understanding. We, however are helplessly aware.

The dehumanization of Nancy is tragic but the real devastation lies in our tacit participation in the apathy that eventually permits the razor.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

In what might be the best country song ever written, Don Williams sings this verse:

“Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine thru the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head”

What Do You Do With Good-ole Boys Like Me resonates with every southern man over 50 and most of the rest because it gets 51D8R4NZ2HLat the essence of our boyhood. The verse is important because it is informed by another tale of southern boyhood, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, who indeed whispers in our head.

When Wolfe died, William Faulkner said he was the greatest writer of their time.

Few have really read this book because it isn’t easy reading. It’s written in stream of consciousness style reminiscent of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Wolfe was criticized for his unapproachable style but remained unrepentant.  F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to him suggesting shorter novels, but Wolfe’s reply letter was 8 times longer than Fitzgerald’s.

Angel does, however get right at the marrow and rewards good ole boys willing to stick with it.  Wolfe’s title was almost Alone, Alone, borrowed, he said, “from the poem I like best, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; then it evolved to O, Lost!; finally, when his publisher asked for something more inspired, Wolfe went to Milton:

. . . Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurld,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.

Milton’s angel in Lycidas was St. Michael; the statue in Look Homeward, Angel was of a different sort, based on one that Wolfe’s father had purchased for his tombstone shop.  The actual Wolfe statue has been identified on the grave of the wife of a Methodist minister in the Asheville, North Carolina area, and is today a stop for the literary traveler.

When you finish this great book, then read You Can’t Go Home Again.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Barn Burning by William Faulkner

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Do you remember being a child? More importantly, do you remember how you perceived the world – the way you interpreted events as an attachment to your parents and family, taking cues from them? In Barn Burning, you are Sarty Snopes, trying to make sense of a difficult world. Your dad is Abner, and you are doing your best to believe he is a good man.

You are wrong, but maybe not. Maybe if you want it bad enough, and hope hard enough your dad will be a different man. Maybe even now, as an adult remembering those childhood impressions it is still possible to rewrite everything.

Faulkner was a master of interiors and keenly understood the human heart.

“His father turned, and he followed the stiff black coat, the wiry figure walking a little stiffly from where a Confederate provost’s man’s musket ball had taken him in the heel on a stolen horse thirty years ago, followed the two backs now, since his older brother had appeared from somewhere in the crowd, no taller than the father but thicker, chewing tobacco steadily, between the two lines of grim-faced men and out of the store and across the worn gallery and down the sagging steps and among the dogs and half-grown boys in the mild May dust, where as he passed a voice hissed:
“Barn burner!”

He surely had Sarty in mind when he wrote in his 1948 story Intruder in the Dust:

“The past isn’t gone. It isn’t even past. It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin…”

Abner Snopes, your dad, is a barn burner. He’s poor, downtrodden and bitter, drifting from one thankless migrant labor job to another, dragging you and the rest of family in tow. Your mother struggles to bring normalcy to daily family life and you convince yourself that this time will be different. Sooner or later, life has to be different because this can’t be what life is.

Faulkner’s readers were fresh from the Great Depression and easily related to Sarty. Here’s a dirt poor young boy, trying to be a man. Though outcast by society, he’s honorable and finally found that more important than loyalty. Something had to change and the only thing Sarty could change was himself.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Dry September by William Faulkner

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“THROUGH THE BLOODY September twilight, aftermath of sixty-two rainless days, it had gone like a fire in dry grass: the rumor, the story, whatever it was. Something about Miss Minnie Cooper and a Negro. Attacked, insulted, frightened: none of them, gathered in the barber shop on that Saturday evening where the ceiling fan stirred, without freshening it, the vitiated air, sending back upon them, in recurrent surges of stale pomade and lotion, their own stale breath and odors, knew exactly what had happened. “

~William Faulkner, from Dry September


RickLynching was far too common in 1931 and it was worse in the south. Almost 100 years after the Civil War, the division of whites and blacks was almost absolute with power tipped entirely to one side. This dynamic fueled a lot of literature including To Kill a Mockingbird and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (and many others). In one of his shortest works, Faulkner tips his hat to Hemingway by telling a ghastly story without telling it at all. The act itself is implied but never described and the horror is left to the theater of the mind.

This story is a masterpiece.

In mining the hearts of the principle characters from counter balancing points of view, Faulkner drives us from effect to cause and strips bare the tragic talons of hate and fear dug deep into the souls of the characters. Even now it resonates and reading is impossibly subjective.

We are there and we are horrifically present and complicit.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

faulkner_silver(1897–1962). The novels of American author William Faulkner rank among the most important books of the 20th century. For them he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. Faulkner wrote mostly about his hometown of Oxford, in Lafayette county, Mississippi. In his fiction the place was renamed Jefferson, in Yoknapatawpha county. The time in various stories ranges from pre–Civil War days to the early 1960s. People of all sorts—wealthy and poor, evil and good, slave and free—come into sharp focus in his writing.

“Faulkner, William,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

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WHEN Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant–a combined gardener and cook–had seen in at least ten years.

It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores. And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.

~William Faulkner, from A Rose for Emily


RickWhat is an eccentric if not one standing just a step beyond our expectations? Emily seemed to have it all at first – position, money and prestige, but in time she drifted outside of society’s blessing by being too opaque. At some point it became impossible to distinguish cause and effect, and it seemed the more curious she became for her isolation, the more she insisted on it.

“And as soon as the old people said, “Poor Emily,” the whispering began. “Do you suppose it’s really so?” they said to one another. “Of course it is. What else could …” This behind their hands; rustling of craned silk and satin behind jalousies closed upon the sun of Sunday afternoon as the thin, swift clop-clop-clop of the matched team passed: “Poor Emily.”

She carried her head high enough—even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness.”

In this classic Southern Gothic tale, Faulkner leaves much to the reader. There are almost as many interpretations as there are readers and much of what you take from it will reflect what you brought. In a sense, that’s the heart of the tale. Growth and change come harder for some than most, but we do ourselves no favor by refusing to evolve.

Sooner or later, the past insists on being the past.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

faulkner_silver(1897–1962). The novels of American author William Faulkner rank among the most important books of the 20th century. For them he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. Faulkner wrote mostly about his hometown of Oxford, in Lafayette county, Mississippi. In his fiction the place was renamed Jefferson, in Yoknapatawpha county. The time in various stories ranges from pre–Civil War days to the early 1960s. People of all sorts—wealthy and poor, evil and good, slave and free—come into sharp focus in his writing.

“Faulkner, William,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck

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“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation- a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”


Rick WilcoxWhen my wife and I visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, I was surprised by what turned out to be my favorite item. I’ve been a Steinbeck fan since I was introduced to him by way of The Pearl in seventh grade English. No other writer commands his sense of place and his eye for landscape in context of character is matchless. I read his masterpiece East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath a few summers ago. The museum memorabilia of these works and other favorites like The Red Pony certainly delighted me, but my heart was captured by an old GMC pickup with a large white camper on back.

Travels with Charley is one of those books I’ve always sort of known about but never truly considered. I knew he wrote it at the end of his career, and that was about it. Seeing the truck, which he named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, made me dig in and boy am I glad I did. The book is about a 3 month, 10,000 mile road trip of America Steinbeck made with his French Poodle Charley.

In 1960 the world was exploding and Steinbeck was feeling lost. He was 58 years old and his health was failing. His masterworks were behind him and (what turned out to be) his final novel, The Winter of Our Discontent was finished. In letters to friends Steinbeck stated that he wrote Winter to address the moral degeneration of American culture. This of course was not a new theme for him and his social activism often had him on defense during the red paranoia of the McCarthy era.

John Steinbeck’s son Thom later said the real reason for the trip was that his dad thought he was dying and wanted to see the country one last time. I think that’s a disservice to the author. The fact is, Steinbeck lived almost another decade and remained active in using his celebrity to influence social cause. The book itself is clearly a blend of nonfiction travelogue and contrived conversations with people encountered along the way. It gives me no pause that some of them may be composites to give the author a vehicle to air out his story.

Standing back over fifty years later, it’s easy for me to see his agenda. Travels with Charley is a wake-up call to America. Steinbeck mined the heart of our country in search of its character and ultimately discovered more about himself than us. He realized near the end of the trip that his experience was entirely subjective and that he only really found what he brought to it. To his credit, the last years of his life found him actively engaged with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as well as Martin Luther King Junior, among others.

He was out there still.

A few months after Steinbeck’s trip, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize several months later, he called his friend William Faulkner (a previous winner) for a little advice about what to say. Faulkner said he couldn’t offer much help because “I was drunk at the time”. In just a matter of weeks Faulkner was dead too – largely from drinking himself to death as F. Scott Fitzgerald did a decade earlier.

In a private journal entry Steinbeck complained about the tendency – specifically here, Faulkner – for famous writers to lose touch with people.

He wrote

“A letter today enclosed an interview with Bill Faulkner which turns my stomach. When those old writing boys get to talking about The Artist, meaning themselves, I want to leave the profession. I don’t know whether the Nobel Prize does it or not, but if it does, thank God I have not been so honored. They really get to living up to themselves, wrapped and shellacked. Apparently they can’t have any human intercourse again.”

The self destructiveness of his contemporaries isn’t easily summarized, but a large measure must be placed on their brooding, angst-riddled and egotistical introspection. Steinbeck stands apart because he found the balance. He understood that yes, wisdom is gained only by the clear eyed examination of one’s heart, but he also knew that none of it mattered if it didn’t benefit other people – specifically, the common man.

To know Steinbeck is to know a man driving Rocinante down the highway with his shirt sleeves rolled up, one arm out the window, engaging the world.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

 

 

 

 

To Time’s Analysis

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THE LILAC IS AN ANCIENT SHRUB
Emily Dickinson

The Lilac is an ancient Shrub
But ancienter than that
The Firmamental Lilac
Opon the Hill Tonight—
The Sun subsiding on his Course
Bequeathes this final plant
To Contemplation—not to Touch—
The Flower of Occident.
Of one Corolla is the West—
The Calyx is the Earth—
The Capsule’s burnished Seeds the Stars—
The Scientist of Faith
His research has but just begun—
Above his Synthesis
The Flora unimpeachable
To Time’s Analysis—
“Eye hath not seen” may possibly
Be current with the Blind
But let not Revelation
By Theses be detained—

(poem 1241)

1 Corinthians 2:9–10

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.


We all want a rich life. We also know the futility of trying to create it with things that don’t last. The stack of books on my desk tells me we aren’t the first to feel this way, from the nihilistic skepticism which figures so strongly in the novels of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose The Great Gatsby chronicles a sad cycle of adultery, suicide and murder amid the supposedly lighthearted atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties to Ernest Hemingway’s failed romances and alcoholic anti-hero which usually end up in something like the atmosphere of his ironically titled short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” There the young waiters counsel suicide and old waiters mockingly pray, “our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name,” or “Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury alludes to and is fully developed around the imagery of Macbeth’s despairing, dying proclamation that life itself “is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.”

In  refreshing contrast, Emily Dickinson’s poem 1241, references 1 Corinthians 2:9, one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible which says

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

In her poem (popularly titled The Lilac Is An Ancient Scrub) she takes an exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven.

When we brush up against God, we know it.

True enough, because Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.”

We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come.

 

The God of creation is still speaking.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Lilacs in the Sun and  Lilacs, Grey Weather

Claude Monet

Claude Monet
Claude Monet

Claude Monet painted these two canvases in the garden of his first home in Argenteuil, near Paris, in spring 1872.

Characters are seated under a bush of lilacs in bloom. One of the two paintings is done when the sky is overcast, the other one when the sun shines. For the first time, Monet put his easel on the same spot to study changes in the light. His intention is made clear by the titles he chose.

According to Sylvie Patin, Chief Curator of musee d’Orsay in Paris, where Lilacs,Grey Weather can be seen, these two works can be considered as the first step in direction of the series, a method Monet would apply systematically ten years later.

~Arlette Cauderlier

Emily Dickinson

41DF6PQbFNL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like many of us, Emily Dickinson loved sunsets, “the Firmamental Lilac.” I live a few blocks away from Sunset Park, a narrow strip of grass and flowers perched on a hill above Puget Sound looking out toward the Olympic Mountains in the west. When the sun sets, especially during the summer, the park is full of neighbors who silently watch as the huge glowing orb steadily slips behind the mountains or sinks into the sea (depending on the sun’s position in the horizon). While the Psalms are full of appreciation for the presence of God in huge thunderstorms, I find sunsets one of the places where I am especially attuned to the goodness of God’s creation.

This poem has a deceptive opening, initially appearing to be another one of Dickinson’s flower poems. The syntactically simple first line is straightforward and blunt. The first thing about a lilac that comes to my mind is its sweet fragrance, but the poet singles out its age; it is “an ancient Shrub.” Dickinson’s garden at the Homestead had several lilac bushes, and their ancient quality is evidenced in the fact that some of these shrubs still bloom today, as you can see (and smell) if you visit Amherst in May. The “turn” that appears in so many of Dickinson’s poems shows up already in the second line of what, for Dickinson, is a long poem: “But ancienter than that / The Firmamental Lilac.” Firmament is a grand-old, King-James-Bible, literary word for sky that permeates the Genesis 1 creation story. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and separated light from darkness. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.… And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day” (Gen 1:1, 5–8). Sunset, the lilac of the sky, is as ancient as the second day of creation.

But the poem describes the sunset we are witnessing this evening, “The Sun subsiding on his Course” over a nearby hill, which “Bequeathes this final plant.” The day is dying, and the expiring sun leaves as a last inheritance “The Flower of Occident,” the flower of the west. Unlike the ancient shrub of the opening line, however, this plant cannot be physically grasped, or touched. It is left us for “Contemplation.” The stanza breaks here, and the meditation follows in the second stanza.

That meditation opens with an unpacking or explicating of the controlling metaphor of the first stanza: lilac = sunset. Precise botanical terms are used: the corolla is the collective term for the petals of a flower that form a ring around the reproductive organs and are surrounded by an outer ring of sepals; the calyx is the group of sepals, usually green, around the outside of a flower that protects the flower bud; and the capsule is the fruit containing seeds that are released when the flower is mature. Think about a dandelion: its gold petals, green sepals, and mature feathery seeds that are carried away by the wind. Similarly, as a lilac’s flowers fade they develop into brown seed pods. In the sunset, the pinks and lavenders of the western sky are the petals, the green earth the calyx, and the glowing evening stars that gradually emerge are the burnished (shimmering) seeds, as the dying sun gives birth to other distant suns.

This explication uses technical scientific terms, which Dickinson knew from her study of botany at Amherst Academy and employed in constructing her herbarium, and she now mockingly terms herself a “Scientist of Faith,” who conducts “research” and performs the technical activities of “Synthesis” and “Analysis.” Such an approach is limited, however. The research “has but just begun,” and the “Flora” (another scientific term) is “unimpeachable,” impossible to discredit or challenge, so good that it is beyond reproach. Neither unpacking the metaphor nor scientifically explaining flowers/sunsets capture the full glorious reality, which can only be perceived for oneself. Twenty poems about sunsets do not even begin to approach the beauty of a single living sunset.

Line 17 quotes 1 Cor 2:9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The poet takes exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven. Indeed, Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come. Theses, argumentative propositions associated with analysis and synthesis, ought not to detain the magnificent revelation of God granted to us through a sunset. If we open our eyes of faith, with the help of the Spirit, we will see God.

Bibliography

Susan VanZanten, Mending a Tattered Faith: Devotions with Dickinson, ed. Clayton J. Schmit and J. Frederick Davison, Art for Faith’s Sake (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 71–72